The Bright and Shining Cities on the Hill

Thomas Hobbes paid good money for the boat. One hundred euros. He bought it, an outrigger, from a young man, a native of the island. A man named Paolu. The boat was serviceable and could be easily repaired. Paolu had thrown in the few simple tools he might need. For free.

He bought a sail too, and two weighted twine nets from another man. An older man. A fisher. A muscled and bent man with a strong, black back.

Paolu was moving his family to Fiji with some other families from the island. A ship was expected to come for them at the end of the month. This would be the last one before the start of the cyclone season.

“Do you have sons and daughters?” Paolu wanted to know.

“I do.”

“Why are they not here with you?”

“They’re not children anymore. They have their own families, and jobs to do. They live in cities. They have lives of their own.”

“I think,” he said, “they would like to be with you.”

“You may be right,” said Hobbes. “But I have lived alone for a long time. It’s the way I am most comfortable. I’ve said my goodbyes to them.”

Hobbes moved his belongings into a house on the northern end of the island. Up high, near to the highest point of land. Rocky, and flat, and dry. A place from which he can wake each morning to see the sun rise over the fine curve of the sea. A place from which he can watch the storm clouds billow and rise. One facing the direction from which the cyclones approach and seas surge.

The house had survived the cyclone in 2015. Pam. The worse one in 2020. The one in which the family there had lost their two children. They had left for Fiji when they could.

He brought along some books. A radio. A two-band shortwave, Kaito KA 500 solar and hand-crank model he bought on ebay. A desalination unit his son, the one who lives now in New Zealand, sent him. A knife and flints. A thin, folded, oiled-canvass tarp.

He will stay there in the house on the island. And eat taro and fish as long as he is able. Read Steinbeck, Nietzsche, and Saramago, Teach himself French and Maori. And he will stay there after the others leave: The young ones with families; The old ones, who will be the last to go. When, finally, they owe more to the past than to the present.

He will stay past the time when the seawater infiltrates the wells and floods the soil and covers the landing strip the Americans built in the war and the copra exporters used. When the winds bend and blow down the last of the coconut palms. When the sea rises to push against the steepest of the slopes. Past the time when Fiji had sent the last of its ships. He will stay even then.

He had told his children. And he told the reporter at The Guardian. The young reporter who lived a quiet life in Sheffield.

His daughter told him she would never speak to him again if he did this. She could not abide this, she told him. Would never forgive him.

The man from Sheffield asked him if he thought that, in the end, anyone would care one whit about what he was doing? He asked Hobbes if he was dying of some terminal disease.

“No, he said.”

Did he think that Shell Oil or Amazon would give a damn?

He said that he did not know.

“When did you make this decision?” the reporter wondered, “What was the turning point for you?”

Hobbes told him that it was when he learned that Disney had announced plans to build an entire city, a completely self-contained city, Ararat City, they called it, in the Chattahoochee Mountains, and another in the Green Mountains with direct light-rail service from Boston and New York, and another in the Sierra Nevada and in the San Bernardino’s. And yet another one in the Blue Ridges.

“I thought about these shining, protected, cities upon the hills,” he said, “for the mobile, migrant, oil-and-Bitcoin-and-silicon-rich. These redoubts from the horror, while Jakarta, Houston, and New Orleans, Dhaka, London, and Mumbai will all be left to sink below the surface when their shoddy, pregnable, and make-believe sea walls and levees are breached.”

“When, it became unavoidably clear to me,” he said, “that those very same people who willingly, and knowingly allowed, for their own gain, this final solution to the ugly, bottomless pit of poverty, that all hope I had was lost. That those people will survive, and thrive, and the rest of world, the world that fed and served, and clothed, and sheltered them, will simply and forever, disappear.”

“And you know what will happen to you, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Hobbes told him. “I do.”

“And you still will let the ships leave without you?”

“Yes, this is the only thing I can do. The only thing that has meaning to me anymore. I can no longer bear witness to it all any more.”

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